Honesty is the best policy
Values: Openness and Trust
Over the last few years, we’ve seen many examples of how not operating with honesty and openness can lead to disaster – the stock market tanked when companies kept their financial troubles hidden, many unsuspecting people lost millions of dollars in Ponzi schemes perpetrated by trusted advisors, and people were killed and injured when flaws in safety features went unreported.
So when I read an article on BNet, the CBS interactive network, about the 10 Times it’s OK to Lie to Your Boss, I was a bit incensed. (Apparently, a lot of people were, given the volume of comments.) In his blog post, Geoffrey James offers scenarios in which it’s acceptable – or even an act of self-preservation – to lie to your boss.
Now, I do agree with some of the points makes in the article, such as not answering overly personal questions (No. 10) or politely laughing at the boss’s lame jokes (No. 6). However, I think many of his scenarios are a bit of a stretch, and his advice could actually hurt you and your organization in the long run.
No. 7: When Boss Stupidity Creates More Work. He advises sales reps to lie about their schedule rather than going on sales calls as requested by the “dinosaur” sales manager, and engineers to avoid long hours by telling the boss a new feature is impossible to implement.
Rather than lying, why not talk to your boss and come up with a solution that meets everyone’s needs? In the second example, if the new feature will make the program more competitive or save money, there may be budget for additional resources. Rather than saying, “Sorry, it can’t be done,” create scenarios in which it can happen, whether the timeline is extended, or temporary resources are brought in. I think most bosses would rather have someone who comes up with solutions, and creates stronger results for the team.
No. 5: When Bosses Ask About Their Appearance. In this scenario, James advises people to not point out the bad comb-over to a boss before he is heading to a big presentation. But really, in that case, does “How do I look?” really mean “What do you think of my new haircut?” It’s about whether or not he needs to straighten his tie or has something sticking out of his pocket. (If I’m ready to get in front of several hundred people and I have spinach in my teeth, please tell me! )
What concerns me about this example is it promotes not offering coaching and feedback – if you stop telling people that they spilled something on their shirt and might want to run to the restroom before meeting with the big wigs, it becomes easy to come up with reasons to avoid answering questions about work performance. We all have areas we can improve in, but aren’t aware of; as part of a team, it is everyone’s obligation to help each other uncover them. Don’t get caught in the ‘it’s not my place,’ or ‘it’s easier to not say anything’ traps.
No. 8: When Bosses Lie To You First. James says that, if your boss lies to you, you are under no obligation to be honest with him or her.
Do I really need to say more than what parents across the world say every day – “If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” Change happens from the top down, bottom up, and from the sides. If we expect to see change, we can’t wait until other people change first – we have to set the example rather than waiting for everyone else to do so first.
While some of these examples are a bit far-fetched, what concerned me as I read this is how this advice can create an atmosphere of mistrust, and how not sharing information can hinder our success – both as individuals and an institution. Sometimes telling the truth is hard – but in the long run, it helps everyone succeed.
I appreciate the fact that I have an open relationship with my boss and my colleagues. These strong relationships let me know that I am getting honest advice on how I can do better, that they are sharing the information I need to do my job, and that I can come to them with ideas on how we can achieve even greater results.
And I sleep a lot better at night, too.